Inter-Religious and Inter-Cultural Dialogue
Remarks by H.E. Sadig Al-Mahdi
Member, Club of Madrid
Former Prime Minister of Sudan
Madrid, March 7, 2008
I am grateful to Georgetown University for inviting me to address you on this important subject.
It is a pleasure to address this youthful audience. They say that psychological factors are catching. Youth is associated with idealism, enthusiasm and innovation. So may your youthful attributes infect us all.
My appearance may give you the impression that I come from another planet. However, the issues I shall discuss are all too relevant to all of you! My great hope is that my intervention makes a positive contribution to the issues under consideration.
I shall elucidate my message in seven points:
Despite numerous conferences and think tanks which have created a fund of good will, and a greater understanding between the participants; actual relations between Islam and the West are moving in an opposite, confrontational direction. Let us look at the scene:
In Palestine: Gaza is an open sore fuelling anger and hatred; demonstrating the atrocities of collective, illegal punishment.
Afghanistan: where America shot down an extremist regime, has become, because of the ineptness of managing the day after, a field of confrontation between a rehabilitated Taliban, as a widely supported Liberation movement, struggling to evict the occupation forces of America and its NATO allies.
Iraq: which was supposed to be a post-Saddam vanguard of democracy and prosperity, has become a show-piece for the exact opposites of the declared intentions. The democracy gospel that was so zealously preached, turned out to be another example of duplicity and hypocrisy.
America deliberately sought to deny HAMAS the results of its January 2006 electoral victory.
Al Qaeda: reached out from the mountains of Afghanistan into Iraq, North Africa, Somalia, and is poised to spread its networks even further.
The price of oil, which is at the center of American policy towards the Gulf, has leapt out of control- from US $28 per barrel, to $100 (about 300% increase).
Hate words have come increasingly into circulation:
America, demonized as the Great Satan; Islamic activities are labeled Islamo-fascism and Islamo-phobia.
Zionist excesses are described as Zion-fascism.
The three possible cases of U.S. success have been squandered by ineptness and downright folly, namely:
- The disentanglement of Syria from Lebanon, and successful Lebanese democratic performance has all turned sour; because America sought to use Lebanon as a stepping stone in the pursuit of getting at Syria, and beyond to Iran, both “Axis of Evil” targets. It is not possible to expect the “Axis of Evil” targets to sit back and allow themselves to be dismantled.
- President Musharef of Pakistan was forced to espouse two irreconcilable targets; namely, to democratize, and to do America’s bidding in its “War on Terror”.
- In Sudan; America played a conspicuous role in the so-called “Comprehensive Peace Agreement”. The agreement was based upon a mistaken diagnosis of the situation. It sidelined Sudan’s political and civil societies, and sought only to satisfy the partisan interests of the combatants. Even then; the ambivalent treatment of the two combatants eroded the viability of the Agreement. All together, the scene is nightmarish.
Second Point: At the intellectual level; much understanding between the West and ISLAM has been achieved. There is further need to accomplish the following:
- Mutual recognition between the FAITHS.
- To move beyond the barren belief that modernization demands secularization. It demands plurality.
- 60% of the World Population gets 6% of World Income. This is untenable. A society which cannot cater for its poor majority will not be able to defend its rich minority. Culturally, the rights of minorities cannot be ignored with equanimity.
- The West needs to recognize the value and contribution of other civilizations.
- ISLAM needs to legitimize much of Modernity which its peoples have already adopted, namely: The Nation-State; the Market Economy; the technological culture; and the International System based upon Peace and Cooperation.
However, even if such intellectual accommodations are established, the situation will not be stabilized. Why?
The Third Point: Many Westerners tend to look for irrational explanations for the bitterness between ISLAM and the WEST.
I was flabbergasted when I read the lead article in the Times of London of 11th September 2007. It said that the anger of Al Qaeda and other Muslim protests has nothing to do with modern problems. It can be completely explained by anger for Muslims’ expulsion from Spain, five centuries ago – even before America was discovered!
Another irrational explanation is that expressed by President Bush; echoing BERNARD LEWIS, he said: “Terrorists hate our freedoms; our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote”…
We must first seek to make a proper diagnosis of the situation:
There are numerous grievances which used to be expressed in ideological terms, but which now are being expressed in religious and cultural terms.
In a recent book: “Marching Toward Hell,” Michael Scheuer, a 20 year CIA veteran, argues “that the grievances which Bin Laden expressed and which are adopted by his followers are: The U.S. presence in the Arabian Peninsula; unqualified support of Israel; U.S. support for states which suppress Muslims; U.S. exploitation of Muslim oil; U.S. support and financing of authoritarian regimes”. He concludes that the U.S. faces more trouble because its leaders refuse to recognize what drives people to terrorism.
MODERATION is inherent in the creed of ISLAM, namely:
- Quranic injunctions in Mecca are pacifist, and when violence was permitted in MEDINA, it was defensive.
- ISLAM recognizes HUMAN worth in its own right- “We have honored the sons of Adam” says the Quran.
- (ISLAM applies the term which means submission to GOD to all the followers of the ABRAHMIC FAITHS); “Say we believe in God, and in what has been revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham, Ismail, Issac, Jacob, and the tribes, and in (the books) given to Moses, Jesus, and the prophets, from their Lord: We make no distinction between one and another Among them and to God do we bow our will (in Islam).
- Although we believe that ALLAH – GOD – has 99 attributes; Muslims are commanded to recite two attributes in the recitation of every SURA –chapter– of the Quran, namely, the Compassionate and the Merciful. The same is repeated at least 17 times a day during prayers.
- The basic justification for violence in the Quran is defensive; (Will ye not fight people who violated their oaths plotted to expel the apostle, and took the aggressive by being the first to assault you? Do ye fear them? Nay, it is god whom ye should more justly fear, if ye believe! (Tawba 13).
- The Quran specifically states “Let there be no compulsion in religion: truth stands out clear from error: whoever in God hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold that never breaks. and God heareth and Knoweth all things ”
So; although in principle, the case for toleration, moderation, accommodation, plurality and compassion in Islam is categorical, extremism and associated violence have developed in response to crisis.
- The first instance of such crisis was witnessed as a result of conflict between sections of the community over the question of succession to the prophet. That led to the phenomenon of the outlaws- AL KHAWARIJ.
- In modern times, all radical expressions have been in response to crisis; namely:
- The Shah of IRAN established secularist fascism. The ISLAMIC Revolution in Iran constituted the reaction.
- The Soviet conquest of Afghanistan led to the Jihadist reaction, which among other factors led both to ALQAEDA, and Taliban.
- ISRAELI expansionism precipitated the PLO and thereafter Hamas.
- ISRAELI occupation of Lebanon in 1982 precipitated the evolution of HIZBALLAH from the womb of AMAL – a Shiite reformist movement.
- It may be categorically stated that five factors have created crisis in the MUSLIM WORLD, and nurtured extremism and violence. They are: Two internal factors, namely, political deprivation; i.e., DICTATORSHIP. And Economic deprivation; i.e., social injustice.
- The three other factors are external. They are: Colonization, as in PALESTINE; Occupation, as in IRAQ; and cultural domination.
- The issues of Colonization and Occupation are clear enough. Cultural domination needs to be explained:
- It manifests itself in the form of Western ethnocentricity, as it equates progress with westernization.
- Examples include the Pope’s 12 June 2007 statement which denounces ISLAM as irrational and violent. The attempt to acculturate Muslims in the West in terms of imposed CONTRACTS, as in SARKOZY’s France, and maybe now SPAIN. In the words of W.H. SMITH, the West must relate to Muslims in the attitude of equals not inferiors. After a thorough diagnosis of the situation, there is a need for a comprehensive strategy that takes all the relevant elements into consideration.
- The hate for Islam has turned in several cases to fear of Islam for example (Pat Yaer eurabiea book) and the other similar boos: The “west’s last chance”And “while the west slept” And so on.
Sixth Point: There is no forum now that would coordinate efforts towards a common diagnosis as a first step towards its development of a comprehensive strategy.
The U.N. is incapable of such an endeavor, because it is too preoccupied with “regular” security problems. It is also shackled by the power of Veto that is exercised in terms of the vested interests of the five states.
Therefore, it is necessary to seek an Alternative International Forum, which should cater for HUMAN SECURITY. It should provide a venue for coordination and follow up of the necessary policies. It should not be, like the UN, the exclusive province of governments, but seek to coordinate governmental and non-governmental endeavors.
Seventh point: What can a meeting such as ours do to help towards that end?
Two specific activities may be realized:
- To outline the necessary diagnosis, and the resulting comprehensive strategy.
- Lobby in all quarters for its realization.
To end with a note of optimism, I say that in my part of the world there is a pervasive admiration of the American peoples. In fact, we wonder how such an open-minded, compassionate people manage to elect Politicians who see the World through the hole of a needle.
However, change is in the air, and as the presidential race in America unfolds, an important front runner- OBAMA- has drawn massive support by calling for genuineness and change. It is also true to say that the fact that a person like OBAMA with all that he represents has been catapulted to be a favorite among the three front runners for U.S. Presidency speaks eloquently to the plurality and openness of American Society.
This may be a message of HOPE. In the World of ISLAM, the old competition for the hearts and minds between ISLAM and secularism has been replaced by a competition within the MUSLIM Political Mind; between MUSLIMS who would like to replace the status-quo with an anachronistic leap into the PAST –Muslims who espouse extremism and use violent protest irrespective of the principles which regulate JIHAD in ISLAM.
The others are Muslims who believe that ISLAMIC guidance should guide the present and the future. They call for a leap forward, which believes in the consistency of Democracy and Human Rights with the principles of ISLAM.
This struggle will be influenced by developments in the West; the more the hegemonists and the ethno-centrists in the West define the Western Position, the more they justify the position of the extremists and their stratagem of violence. This is the unholy alliance, which is a DARK AGE scenario. The more the advocates of justice and pluralism prevail in the West, the more they justify the position of the Muslims who articulate the compassionate and pluralist principles of ISLAM. This is the Holy Humanist Alliance, which would build a World worthy of the Dignity and the Brotherhood of MAN.